For the love of Robbie

The poet Robert Burns continues to provide inspiration.
The poet Robert Burns continues to provide inspiration.
It is time to find novel new rhymes for oats and haggis as the Robert Burns Poetry Competition returns, open for entries from Saturday.

The competition is a collaboration between Dunedin Public Libraries and the Dunedin Burns Club, and is celebrating the 10th year the Allan Millar Medal and Trophy has been awarded.

It goes to the winner of the unpublished poet section. The competition asks people to ''write a poem in English or Scots, inspired by the life or works of Robert Burns''.

Returning judge Paul Veart says people only need to take the poet and his work as a starting point, although last year's published-poet winner, Debbie Williams, wrote expressly in praise of the man:

Och man, 'tis true, the life ye led,
there's name saw bauld, frae wha'
I've read,
to kilted Scot each lassie fled
into thine arms,
fu' lo'ed by thee to woo, an' bed,
held by thy charms.

''The things I really loved from last year were when people took Robbie Burns as a starting point but used it as a way to experiment and take some risks and play with some ideas that were important to them,'' Mr Veart said.

They used the spirit of Burns without being tethered to all the traditions.

Mr Veart is joined on the judging panel again this year by poet David Howard, the University of Otago's Robert Burns Fellow.

Burns had a way of taking the ordinary everyday things of life and enchanting them, Mr Veart said. When people entered poems in the competition that did that with their own lives, it was really enjoyable, he said. It brought the Robbie Burns magic to proceedings.

Mr Veart's top tip? Read some Robbie first.

''The more the better''.

The library has a lot, some on display, he said, including some lesser known works. They range in their subject matter from myth and legend to oats and the very everyday.

Poem length is up to the writer. Last year that meant a couple stretched to three or four pages.

''If you are going to do something that is long, it has to prove itself more because there is more to read,'' Mr Veart said.

''But if done well, it gives more chance of placing highly.

''If you feel up for it, a well edited three to four page poem would be really good, but at the same time, if the idea only warrants a page, don't push past there.

''Let the poem itself dictate the length.''

People are encouraged to embrace the bilingual possibilities of writing in English and Scots in their rhymes, Mr Veart said. And indeed it would be interesting to see if people could incorporate Maori language.

''If people could pull that off it would definitely really impress me.''

It might also capture how Burns might work in the 21st century.

Mr Veart is interested to see if some of the same themes from last year come through, when there was a lot on immigration to Dunedin. Perhaps this time there might be some more contemporary immigration tales, he said.

Although Robert Burns did not visit Dunedin - he died young, aged just 37 - the city has a connection beyond the Octagon statue. His nephew, Rev Dr Thomas Burns, was one of Dunedin's founding fathers. The statue to Robert Burns in the Octagon was unveiled in 1887. The University of Otago also hosts the Robert Burns Fellowship, a residency for New Zealand writers. The Dunedin Burns Club was formed in 1891.

The Robert Burns Poetry Competition has three sections, for published poets, unpublished poets and young poets. Entries must be in by January 6. All first prize winners will be invited to attend a ceremony on January 25 at the Dunedin City Library. Winners will also have their poems published in the Otago Daily Times.

There is more information at

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